Racism; drug problems; player’s collapsing on the field of play. The list goes on. PFA chief Gordon Taylor has been through it all in the past season and the man who is the ear for players’ across England’s leagues is just as wary of gambling and the effect it could have if left to players themselves. CalvinAyre.com reached out to the PFA chief Taylor to grasp more of an understanding of the links between footballers and the gambling industry.
Stories of players racking up six or seven figure gambling debts are tabloid fodder in contemporary society and Taylor is clear the only way to combat this is through blanket education at youth team level.
“An education programme for players is already in place and over the last 4 years the PFA have been holding player meetings at clubs to discuss the betting rules alongside other information we provide to players,” he said.
He continued: “This season as a sport, football has come together and shown a united front and the PFA and FA have been visiting all Premier League and Football League Club to continue to build on our education programme with regard to making sure that players understand what they can and cannot do in the rules relating to betting and where they can go for help.”
It was widely reported the Football Association had issued a blanket ban on betting by anyone at a club on any game, anywhere. Taylor dispelled this as part myth stating that there is “currently no FA outright ban on betting in football for players”. Players are allowed to bet as long as the competition doesn’t involve their team and there are obvious further rules relating to providing inside information and obvious fixing of games. He admits there’s “been discussion” on an “outright ban” but that the rules are “sufficient” as they are and the “key” is “education and communication”.
SOMETHING DOESN’T ADD UP
Taylor’s views go further than this though. Even with an FA ban in place there are certain points in the Gambling Act that simply don’t add up. It all comes down to a piece of land just off the coast of Spain and the decision by most companies to move there in the past 10 years. Condition 15.1 of the Gambling Act doesn’t apply to these companies and for those not in the know it’s the one that makes it a requirement for operators to report any irregular or suspicious betting to the Gambling Commission. According to Taylor this is wide open to abuse.
“The fact that they are not required to report this through their internet operations based in Gibraltar means that in theory although they might know that some participants are breaking the rules by gambling on their sport, it might not be commercially convenient for them to pass on that information to the authorities because they might be a good client and lose money to the company on a regular basis,” Taylor said.
This is just a suggestion from Taylor and companies serving the UK market are working within a country that has one of the best regulatory systems in the world. Combine this with the fact that many have extremely stringent tests in place and you realize it’s unlikely this is the case. We spoke to William Hill press officer Graham Sharpe, who told us: “Responsibility for preventing sportspeople being permitted to take part in different activities ultimately rests with individual sport authorities. Illegal or suspicious betting is something all bookmakers would want to draw attention to and William Hill would certainly do so.”
IRREGULARITIES REGULARLY REPORTED
William Hill isn’t the only betting company to be looking into these cases and we’ve lost count of the amount of times Betfair has reported irregularities on their exchanges on a number of occasions. That’s before you take into account that companies based in the small jurisdictions have signed up tp a six point plan to protect this summer’s Olympic’s from betting irregularities.
Even if anything like this were to be going on, education at an academy level is still the best thing to do. Gambling has been a part of the fabric of the game for decades and just like any players found to be drinking alcohol, eating the wrong food or spending all their money on shopping it’s all okay in moderation. Taylor points out the salaries and large amounts of down time mean players “could be drawn into gambling or any other recreation”. Much like Dr Patrick Basham, Taylor pointed out that footballers, like all of us, are only natural to want to indulge in some kind of competitive risk.
“The possibility that professional athletes are by nature competitive and take risks might be another motivating factor, but this has never to our knowledge been proven and could well be the same for other employees in other sectors as well,” Taylor said.
E-LEARNING HIGH ON AGENDA
Taylor explained that they’re already educating Academy scholars and it’s something they want to elaborate upon.
“We hope to introduce an e-learning programme on betting, inside information and match fixing for next season which scholars will undertake in the Academies,” Taylor said. “If there is any issue regarding problem betting then to change any culture you first have to start at a younger level and bring them through so that they have the knowledge of what pitfalls there are out there and over a period of time a culture can change.”
Being inside the UK helps a lot as the combination of a strong regulatory system and compliant companies means any suspect betting is reported immediately. A prime example was last October’s case involving Motherwell player Steve Jennings. The suspect betting was reported by Blue Square to the Scottish Premier League almost immediately and the player reprimanded.
There are no doubt the systems in place at certain companies put the sport in a very strong position to fight anything happening that shouldn’t be going on. The loophole mentioned by Taylor isn’t likely to be there for much longer and could disappear completely when the UK embarks on a new path of regulation. The worrying thing is it was there in the first place with the government deciding to largely ignore it.